Why the countryside can’t operate under Packham’s flag of peace

Garry Doolan

Garry Doolan

Garry Doolan is BASC’s deputy director of communications and public affairs. He has more than 20 years experience of journalism and the media. He joined the organisation in 2016 and is a keen shooter and beater, with his springer spaniel Quincy.

So Chris Packham wants a truce. He wants to be shooting’s friend and offer us a way to salvation; a way out of the troubles he insists are leading us down the path to our own destruction.

Or is he actually creating an opportunity to say to the wider public that he offered words of reconciliation but the shooting community threw them right back in his face?

What Mr Packham won’t tell non-shooting journalists and newspapers in the week before the Glorious 12th is the full story, the fact this ceasefire he offers must be all on his terms. He won’t tell those journalists how much he has done to polarise and entrench the debate – perhaps too much. 

Even in the magazine article in which he calls for a truce, Mr Packham inflames an already heated debate by saying: “Don’t underestimate outrage, it tears down statues and takes control without prisoners.”

And while he talks of the restoration of friendly relations, in the background he continues to run shooting through the courts on the back of the General Licence fiasco that brought the great British countryside to its knees last year, and threatened conservation work and livelihoods.

Shooting’s response must be measured, acceptable and continue the excellent work we are already doing. Some of the reactions we saw in the General Licence debacle played straight into the hands of those who want to vilify us. This cannot be repeated.

But shooting will not be played. We are happy to sit down with anybody and any group if we believe their intentions are honest, proper and underpinned by their actions. We are happy to discuss with anyone willing to listen and engage in a positive manner about how and why shooting continues to be a success story. That’s why governments and decision makers continue to recognise the remarkable benefits shooting provides to our economy and environment.

We accept shooting is not perfect, nothing is. And where issues exist, we call them out. We also seek solutions. It’s why BASC was among a host of other shooting and rural organisations that issued an unequivocal ‘zero tolerance’ statement on raptor persecution earlier this year and why we have called for a transition away from the use of lead ammunition

We also consistently restate our commitment to ethical, sustainable evidence-led practices that offer shooting a bright future. We will continue our work to stamp out wildlife crime. Let us be clear; anyone who breaks the law in the name of shooting has no place within the community. We will continue to shout from the rooftops about the passion that drives amazing work that supports the economy and conservation.

But for a chance of peace on his terms, Mr Packham imposes conditions so ridiculous and so unworkable it would be ruinous for shooting. Indeed, they would also be ruinous for the wildlife conservation and habitats he claims so passionately to defend.

Mr Packham’s demands include a ban on driven grouse shooting, an immediate end to the use of snares, an immediate ban on the sale, possession and use of all lead ammunition, and an end to predator control in an area where such control is essential to biodiversity. Oh, and shooting to take up the cudgel for a fight with the farming world, the very people who are key to conservation on a landscape scale.

As we do all that – and more – to give Mr Packham his new world order, he would also like us to ‘help rather than harry and hinder’ Wild Justice.

This is not a bona-fide shot at a ‘truce’ by a well-meaning Chris. Not a genuine opportunity for reflection and reconciliation. How can it be, so long as Mr Packham continues to drag shooting through the courts with a gun pointing at our head.

Mr Packham is pursuing his radical, divisive agenda by whatever means he can. The Mr Packham playbook is extensive and history suggests there is little that will stop the BBC presenter from chasing his cause.

But that aside, plans like this should be reviewed on the quality, calibre and weight of supporting evidence. So let us forget for a moment that Mr Packham has burned virtually every bridge he has ever had with the shooting community over the course of a ruthless and concerted campaign against the countryside, and instead discuss some of the detail of his seven-point plan to ‘save’ shooting.

First up, he’s talking about grouse.

“Stop driven grouse shooting. More than any other part of your industry it is underpinned with illegal or unsustainable practices. It’s out of control, has been thoroughly exposed on multiple occasions and is doomed. It’s not a question of will it be stopped or reformed, only when. So jump before you are pushed.”
Chris Packham

If you’re going to offer a plan, at least make it reasoned and evidence based. The shooting community was not born yesterday – we know there is no case for banning driven grouse shooting.

But don’t just take our word for it. The Scottish Government’s independent review into driven grouse moor management concluded that ‘we do not recommend that grouse shooting be banned’, and the same review acknowledged the numerous and wide-ranging benefits of different grouse management practices.

It is abundantly clear that this part of Mr Packham’s plan is as baseless as it is unreasonable. Radical, extreme demands such as this make us far less likely to take seriously anything else Mr Packham says. There can be no ‘truce’ while battering around provocative rhetoric such as ‘jump before you are pushed’. This is not how to build consensus.

Next up – less of a demand, more of a plea.

“Please, please, please stop those self-appointed ‘custodians of the countryside’ who exterminate all the predators and all the mountain hares on their estates from telling us that they are conservationists. It’s cringe-worthy and pitiful, and it makes us laugh more than it makes us angry”
Chris Packham

Really. Can you hand-on-heart say that our community exterminates all predators and mountain hares? You haven’t provided any evidence to support this frankly ludicrous claim, so let’s examine what is known about predator control.

The fact of the matter is that the carefully considered predator control undertaken on estates is invaluable – not just for game birds, but for a plethora of other species, including our raptors. Don’t believe it? Let’s again point to the Scottish Government’s independent review into grouse moor management, which states:

“this practice [predator control] can also benefit other species – most notably waders such as curlew, golden plover and lapwing which can be locally abundant; and mountain hares, for which the combination of predator control, good food source (young heather shoots) and cover (older heather) is considered highly beneficial. Black grouse and ground-nesting raptors (hen harriers and merlins) can also benefit.”
Independent Grouse Moor Management Group Report

It seems like this predator control loathed so much by Mr Packham is having some pretty favourable impacts on some of our most threatened species? In fact, the RSPB itself conducts predator and pest control to protect threatened species.

Our community will continue to support these threatened species while Mr Packham and his cohort fly the flag for predators – which have no natural predators themselves – and could quite easily decimate the very species he is so vocal about protecting.

The work undertaken by our community to keep generalist predators in check is fundamental to biodiversity. Mr Packham wants to vilify predator control because he sees it as happening solely in the name of shooting when, in fact, it is absolutely the right thing to do in the name of conservation.

Mr Packham also wants an immediate ban on snares. More than that, in the same section, he says:

“The plain, simple reality is that shooting has to change. We are obviously intolerant of slavery, racism, homophobia, human rights abuses, torture….child labour. We’ve moved and are moving on with these issues and now people have woken up to the indisputable fact that our environment and its biodiversity are in very deep shit…..Shooting can either fight it, or we can work together to embrace that change. Don’t underestimate outrage, it tears down statues and takes control without prisoners.”
Chris Packham

There’s lots to digest here. Perhaps it’s worth starting with the last significant quote from the UK Government on the appropriate use of snares when the most recent code of practice for their use was updated.

The minister wrote: “Snaring is just one part of a range of measures that have to be used to manage some species – the control of which underpins agricultural production, farm animal husbandry, the sustainable harvesting of wild gamebirds, and the conservation of wildlife.

“At crucial times of the year – particularly spring and summer – vegetative cover renders other measures very impractical, making the unique effectiveness of modern snares invaluable.

“When practised to a high standard, and with adherence to the law, snaring can provide land and wildlife managers with an effective means to restrain target animals before they can be humanely managed.”

It may be worth reminding Mr Packham that when researchers and scientists want to catch wild animals to study, they often use snares. They are a legitimate device for restraint, not killing.

With the common sense out the way, it’s worth considering the language Mr Packham uses in the rest of the section on snares. While he doesn’t directly call the shooting community racist, homophobic, or abusers of human rights, there can be no other explanation for the formatting of these paragraphs than to believe Mr Packham is attempting to taint us all by association.

Mr Packham also calls for an immediate end to the sale, possession and use of all lead ammunition in the UK.

“Frankly, how in the 21st Century do you think it’s still tenable to fire 5,000 tonnes of it into the UK countryside where it kills 50,000-100,000 wildfowl each year? Ask yourself, do you want children and especially pregnant women to be eating game contaminated with lead? It reduces IQ.”
Chris Packham

On this point, there would be danger of consensus with Mr Packham if only he had not gone for the radical, extremist option of an immediate ban.

He knows BASC and other organisations have called for a transition away from lead ammunition over the next five years. There are reasons it needs such a timescale, to allow for proper consultation on the steps necessary to make that happen and to allow people to assimilate the need for change and make the steps.

Yet Mr Packham demands we do it all and do it now. He would give no opportunity for adaptation, no opportunity for demand to increase to such a point that manufacturers can cope and so that the important industry that exists around shooting can find the best way of making the change. The removal of lead from fuel was through a well-orchestrated transition, not a cliff edge; let us apply the lessons of historical success. 

Mr Packham’s route to his utopia cannot exist with those who live in the real world. Can we really reason – or negotiate – with a man who said in 2017: “…..we’ve had it with our dwindling wildlife being wasted by psychopaths who kill for pleasure .”

On top of all this, Mr Packham wants the shooting community to believe Wild Justice is doing us all a favour with its legal challenges.

“Help, rather than harry and hinder Wild Justice in its desire to simply understand the real ecological effects of releasing in excess of 50 million non-native gamebirds into the UK’s landscape.”
Chris Packham

Mr Packham is asking us, the shooting community, to work with and trust three of the country’s most prolific and divisive anti-shooting, anti-gamekeeping campaigners because they supposedly want to understand the ‘real ecological effects’ of a way of life they neither care for nor understand.

You need only read a few blogs in the name of any of Wild Justice’s co-directors to understand that their intentions are to see an end to shooting as we know it. Wild Justice gives off the vibe that it hates everything and anything to do with shooting, irrespective of what the science tells them and us.

Mr Packham must surely understand our reservations when he invites us to ‘help’ this group while at the same time occupying our time and resource defending Judicial Reviews and other legal actions that adversely impact the very conservation aims they profess to support.

He can’t honestly expect the shooting community to fall for the line that they simply want to establish an ecological impact when we are still dealing with the catastrophic fall-out of their ill-advised challenge on the General Licences last year.

While you are dragging shooting through the courts, Mr Packham, there is categorically no hope of building consensus with our community.

It is that last point above all others which highlights the sham of Mr Packham’s call for a ‘truce’. 

The importance of trust in any sort of collaboration cannot be understated. It is vital, when working together, that we are honest about our intentions, and that there is an element of mutual respect for one another.

BASC has a proud tradition of co-operation with other conservation organisations established over many, many decades and will continue that work in the years ahead. We will not allow shooting to become marginalised and will always endeavour to be in the room and sat at the table when key discussions are taking place and decisions made.

Relentless attacks on our community by Mr Packham and his associates undermine any prospect of collaboration with him. He fuels hate against us and actively uses his celebrity platform to falsely taint decent shooting people with the crimes of the small but unacceptable minority.

If Mr Packham wants to convince us his intentions are good, he could stop attributing every raptor persecution case to the shooting community as a whole. We acknowledge a serious problem exists and we continue to say that those amongst us who operate outside the law should be met with the full force of the law and ostracised – there is no place for these criminals. But Mr Packham also knows that people other than shooters are killing raptors. So long as he continues to blame us for everything and to encourage the perception that the shooting community is responsible for all that is wrong, positions will only become more entrenched.

For our part, BASC will continue to represent our community and continue to embrace evidence-based changes that make our activities more sustainable. We require no lessons from Mr Packham on the matter.

BASC will continue to fight Mr Packham’s legal challenges in the courts. In fact, we have just committed a substantial seven-figure ‘Fighting Fund’ to give shooting the voice it needs when Wild Justice and others try to put us in the dock.

BASC will continue our work to stamp out wildlife crime.

BASC will continue to shout from the rooftops about the amazing work that supports the economy and conservation. When the real work needs to be done, it will be the shooting community that is our there, in all weathers getting hands dirty and getting the job done. We will continue to tell that story.

But, Mr Packham, to borrow from an old expression that may sit with your wildlife credentials, we will never smile at a crocodile.